Just before noon Sunday, Nou Sokhunthea slumped on a curb in the middle of the Mondial Center in Phnom Penh, taking a breather from her shopping spree at the Vietnamese trade fair.
She was surrounded by bags filled with laundry detergent, shampoo, instant noodles and many other household goods—all produced in Vietnam. “It has similar quality with other products,” Nou Sokhunthea said of her purchases. And the products on offer at the trade show are “cheaper than the market by 5 percent,” she added.
It’s customers like Nou Sokhunthea that Vietnamese manufacturers are trying to win over in Cambodia, combating the long-held stigma that Vietnamese products are inferior to goods made in other countries.
Officially named “The Trade Fair of High Quality Vietnamese Goods,” it is the sixth year the fair has been held in Phnom Penh.
The organizers expect 200,000 to 300,000 people to visit the fair, which began Saturday and runs through Wednesday at the Mondial Center on Mao Tse-tung Boulevard. “This is the biggest year ever,” said Tam Phanhuy, a trade fair representative.
Some 160 venders were selling goods at 320 booths—hawking potato chips, soft drinks, perfume, electric fans, sandals, textiles, clothing, rotary tillers and mattresses, just to name a few.
Tam Phanhuy said that more and more consumers are buying Vietnamese products, which are sold on their value and affordability.
He said that new advertising campaigns have built Cambodian’s knowledge and confidence in Vietnamese products. And special activities, such as performances by Vietnamese singers, are helping boost fair attendance, he said.
“This year we have many activities for the consumer, like finger painting and body painting,” Tam Phanhuy said.
Shoppers at the fair seemed attracted mainly by the prices as they hunted for bargains, trusting they could discern good quality.
Ly Socheat, 30, had found several plastic containers—including a laundry basket and shelf organizers for her kitchen.
“Some Vietnamese products are good but some are not,” she said, leaning on the laundry basket to demonstrate its sturdiness. “I do not mind using Vietnamese products. They have a fair price,” she said.
Do Hoang My, a representative with Vietnam’s Kymdan furniture and mattresses, said the fair has been a big help in expanding into the Cambodian market. He’s had a display every year the fair has been held, showcasing his company’s mattresses, pillows and furniture.
“The Cambodian market is one of the most important markets,” Do Hoang My said, because it is growing and competitive. “People used to get products from Thailand but now Vietnam and Cambodia are building a [trade] relationship,” he said.
The company—which boasts of using all natural materials—has showrooms in Laos, France, Germany, Australia and China, and Kymdan products are available in Phnom Penh at the E Heng Furniture Shop on Kampuchea Krom Boulevard, he said.
In some cases, the low price of Vietnamese products were more than holding their own at the fair.
Le Rath, a 26-year-old vendor selling beverages from a cooler, said she noticed a strong preference for Vietnamese over Cambodian soft drinks. Perhaps customers were swayed by the fair’s theme?
“I do not know why,” Le Rath said. “I think it is normal quality, just cheaper,” she added.